20 October, 2008

Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache (Vegan)

My grandchild, C., named after a famous opera heroine, is going to be 4 years old in a few days, and happily I am going to be at her party. I was in Japan when she was born and for the other three birthdays so this is a special one for me. Like many youngsters she seems to be captivated with fanciful outfits, and she's pretty stylish, thanks to the fact that her parents are artistic. My son is an actor, and his wife is in film editing, and C. is already exhibiting all the charisma of a young entertainer-to-be. This month she's "the best" at practically everything from climbing down out of the car to climbing up again into it, and she does everything with a "ta-da" flourish that her father was famous in the family for. I'm pretty sure she is also the best at eating chocolate cake.

I approve of her enthusiasm.

For her birthday I have created some pretty chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache, decorated with a single silver dragee, and for the non-wheat eaters, I've made some chocolate cupcakes from Isa's Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World cookbook, which I adapted with gluten-free flours. They are also dairy-free with a creamy soy milk deep chocolate ganache. These may be just a bit vertically challenged compared to standard cupcakes, but they are light, tender, and delicious. And shhh, don't tell, but I believe they may be better tasting than the tall drink of wheat versions. They are completely vegan, so far more guiltless, as everyone knows, than regular chocolate cupcakes (even if they have almost the same number of calories).

For all the little girls out there with big chocolate love, and the big girls too, here is the way I made them. Eat and enjoy and if you have any pictures with a big chocolate mustache, I'd love to see them.

Chocolate cupcakes (Vegan and Gluten-free)

1 cup soy milk

1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup light brown or regular sugar
1/3 cup safflower oil 1 tsp (organic) vanilla extract (keep it real)

1 cup GF flour mix:

1/3 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup white rice flour
2-3 Tb. corn starch and fill the rest of the 1/3 cup measure with white rice flour

1/3 cup good cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Put the soy milk in a large bowl and drop in the vinegar, giving it a quick stir. Allow to sit and curdle or a minute or so, then add the sugar, vanilla and oil and stir. Add the cocoa to the flour mixture along with the baking powder, soda, and salt and stir together with a fork. Then add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and beat with a fork until all the large lumps are out. Put cupcake papers into a muffin pan and fill them about 2/3 full. No need to grease them as they come out pretty well when cool.

Bake the cupcakes about 15 minutes or so at 350 degrees. I watch them and take them out when a light touch on top with a finger tests just a bit bouncy. If you want to make sure, stick a thin knife in the centre and if the dough doesn't cling to the knife, they are done. Remember that the cupcakes may cook more quickly at the back of the oven than the front. I usually reverse the pan during cooking. And don't worry about the testing jabs, because you're going to cover them with ganache.

Chocolate Soy Ganache

For a double batch (frosts about 3 dozen or more cupcakes; half it for a single batch)

2/3 cup plain soy milk

3/4 cup -1 cup sugar, to taste (more or less)
6 ounces good quality unsweetened baking chocolate (the semi-sweet contains milk), chopped

Heat the soy milk gently in a saucepan, adding the sugar and stirring to dissolve. Take it off the heat and sit it on a back burner while you chop the chocolate with a large knife. Waxed paper may make the clean-up easier. Unless it has taken an hour to chop, in which case you might need to give the soy-sugar mixture a shot of heat, add the chocolate to the pan and stir and stir (off the heat) until it all melts and then starts to thicken to a spreadable consistency, not too thick. Stop stirring and keep it on the turned- off burner to preserve the spreadability.
Pick up each cooled cupcake, apply a spoon of ganache, and give it a quick swoosh around. Set them on a plate or platter to cool. The ganache will harden without refrigeration. It will also be chocolate heaven when you bite into it, a great way to get your daily allowance of chocolate vitamins.

15 October, 2008

Blog Action Day: Who's poor and hungry?


Percent of food bank clients who are children: 38.7 %

Percent of households containing at least one child: 50.6 %

Years since the federal government promised to eliminate child poverty: 18

Change in the number of hungry children since then (1989): + 127,729

- From The Association of Canadian Food Banks, 2007 Hunger Count Report ( .pdf file).

Canada's one of the rich countries. Immigrants come here from all over the world for the opportunities. We have free education up to university age and universal health care. We have a re-elected government who says that there's no problem with the economy, we just have to sit tight and not panic.

There are food banks in every province of Canada. Many food banks. Food banks have sprung up on most college campuses, since many students can't afford to pay tuition and eat too. There's one on my old college campus.

In Nova Scotia alone, there are at least 28 food banks and societies that cover the whole province. I remember when there were just a few, mostly centered in Halifax or one or two other cities. In Halifax there are at least 29 breakfast programs and food banks run by associations and churches and many, many more drop-in centres, shelters and groups supporting and interacting with them. It's a little unsettling.

Attacks on welfare programs in the 90's by governments of all political stripes cut benefits and made it harder to qualify for programs. They also promoted versions of "workfair" which made people take any kind of low-paid work whose minimum wages couldn't cover the cost of rent, bills, and leave enough for people to feed themselves and their families. These were the provincial governments who in 1989 pledged to end child poverty by 2000.

Yeah, eh?

In the intervening years there's not only an alarming proliferation of food banks as government has divested itself of taking responsibility for the food security of its citizens, but food bank use has increased by 91%.

Yup, that's almost double the amount of Canadian people forced to visit the banks just to survive, or about 720, 000 people in the month of March 2007 when the last count was taken. Not to mention the 2,344,462 free meals served in addition to that.

Sorry if my bold button seems to be getting a workout, but I find these figures staggering. There are now 673 actual food banks in Canada, and that doesn't include the several thousand associated agencies and volunteer groups. I think it's time to panic.

Yet government apparently has the money to hand tax breaks to corporations. And around here, just before the election, there were paving activities suddenly springing up all over Halifax and Dartmouth. Just think of all those instant jobs. And all the time we have left before the roads break up in the winter, maybe as much as two or three months. Value for money.

I don't have the solutions for hunger in Canada, but the Association of Food Banks has some good ideas, including raising the minimum wage to $10.00 an hour. That would be a start. And because of the severity of the problem, I want to say to them all, the volunteers and the organizers and the people who donate every month, a heartfelt thank-you for your fine work. I wish we didn't need you but it's obvious we do, and I'm sure that the thought that you're there helps the hungry not to panic in times of stress.

The government's sure not panicking.


Inspired by some reading of other more positive outlooks on blogs, I'm adding some groups working toward the resolution of hunger. One I particularly like is the free rice site. See the green banner at the top left ? Just click it and you not only get to directly donate rice but as you watch your rice bowl fill up, you expand your vocabulary. And, shhh, it's fun. I like that I can do it frequently and it doesn't depend on the size of my pocketbook, so it's great for the out-of-work and students.

Feed Nova Scotia, the umbrella organization for food banks in the area has a bunch of good ways to help, including Drive Away Hunger an event where local farmers drive their tractors around collecting food for the food banks, walks, collecting used cell phones and more.

The Canadian Association of Food Banks collects food or money donations; you can even Grow-a Row of fresh food during the season to donate. Too late now, but a great idea for next year.

And on the global scene, one of the best ways to raise people from poverty is to get them started in a business through a small loan. Kiva can set you up.

If you have any more sites to suggest, please leave them in a comment.

08 October, 2008

Blog Action Day

This year Blog Action Day is October 15th. The subject is poverty. I'm posting the video as a call to any of you who feel you might have something to say on the subject. There are many kinds of poverty. One is lack of money or the things one needs to live. I can think of a few more, though, poverty of spirit being among them.

But I'm not here to preach. I just want to listen to whatever you have to say. I'll be reading like crazy on October 15th. Will I be reading you?

Blog Action Day 2008 Poverty from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.